WINE GRAPE HARVEST WAS DOWN IN 2011; PRICES HIGHER: NAPA (AP) — The late freezes and untimely rain impacted California's wine grape harvest just as vintners had predicted: The 2011 harvest was down 7 percent to 3.3 million tons.
The preliminary harvest report was released Friday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
It showed that reduced supply meant increased prices.
Napa County recorded the highest prices for grapes with an average $3,400 per ton — up 5 percent from the previous year. Grapes from Sonoma and Marin counties netted an average $2,081 a ton — up 3 percent.
Factoring in all wine grape-growing regions, the average price for red wine grapes went up 12 percent to $702 a ton. For white, it went up 8 percent to $541.
When table grapes are included, the overall tonnage of the California fruit was still down 3 percent.
MODESTO MAN GOING TO TRIAL FOR MURDER OF BYSTANDER: MODESTO (AP) — A Stanislaus County judge has ordered a Modesto man to stand trial for murder in the shooting death of a 16-year-old boy with Down syndrome.
Judge Dawna Reeves made the ruling Thursday after the preliminary hearing for 19-year-old Richard Maurice Jolly.
Prosecutors say Jolly opened fire into the back of a minivan carrying Eliazar Hernandez after a fight between rival groups in October 2009. Hernandez was an innocent bystander.
The judge also said there's enough evidence to try Jolly for the attempted murder of Hernandez's older brother, Alex Gomez, who also was in the van. Gomez allegedly was involved in the dispute.
Jolly's attorney unsuccessfully argued that his client should face an involuntary manslaughter, rather than murder, charge because the shooting was done in self-defense.
FEDS SLAP UTILITY FOR SAN ONOFRE AMMONIA LEAK: LOS ANGELES (AP) — An ammonia leak that caused an emergency alert at the San Onofre nuclear plant in November was caused by employees who failed to recognize degraded equipment and fix it, federal regulators said Friday.
The Nuclear Regulatory Commission report concluded the problem had "very low safety significance," and faulted plant operator Southern California Edison for failing to follow its own procedures at the twin-reactor site, about 45 miles from San Diego.
The company conducted a parallel investigation and found the same contributing factors as the NRC, according to a statement. The utility said it made changes to address the findings.
The report came as the company continues to investigate a separate leak in a relatively new steam generator tube that prompted the shut-down of one reactor as a precaution.
4 KIDS CAUGHT EATING POT AT ELEMENTARY SCHOOL: HESPERIA (AP) — Authorities say four fourth-graders were caught eating marijuana at an elementary school in Hesperia.
Hesperia Unified School District Superintendent Mark McKinney said that the Lime Street Elementary School students were spotted by fellow students sharing the drugs on Thursday.
He says school staff immediately contacted police, parents were brought in and the kids have been dealt with.
The Daily Press says the pot apparently came from an uncle of one child and an older sibling of another.
McKinney says he doesn't believe the relatives gave the children the drug and they most likely found it.
POLICE CAPTURE ESCAPEE WHO STALKED MADONNA: LOS ANGELES (AP) — An inmate convicted of stalking Madonna and threatening to slash her throat was captured Friday, a week after police said the "highly psychotic" man walked away from a mental hospital.
Robert Dewey Hoskins was taken into custody in Long Beach, where authorities said he may have fled after his escape from the Metropolitan State Hospital in Norwalk, about eight miles away, police said.
He had been committed there last year and was returned to the facility after his arrest. Police didn't comment about how Hoskins escaped or where he had been over the past week.
A message left with a spokeswoman for the California Department of Mental Health was not immediately returned.
Hoskins, 54, served a 10-year prison sentence for stalking and threatening Madonna after being convicted by a jury in 1996.
MAD COW DISEASE RULED OUT IN 1 OF 2 MARIN CASES: NOVATO (AP) — Marin County health officials say at least one of the two cases of a rare brain illness is not the variety related to Mad Cow Disease.
Two local residents were recently diagnosed with Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, a neurological disorder that causes rapid dementia, with patients eventually falling into a coma and dying. It affects one in a million people.
A variant form is commonly known as mad cow disease, which is contracted by eating meat from an infected animal.
Marin County health officials said on Thursday that lab test results have ruled out the variant in one of the cases.
Interim Public Health Officer Craig Lindquist said there is no evidence the two cases are linked or pose any type of public health risk.
One of the Marin County patients, 59-year-old Aline Shaw, died on Jan. 27.